This past week, former Vice President Al Gore and his fellow investors sold Current TV for a reputed half billion dollars to Al Jazeera, the Qatarian news oganization. Al Jazeera hoped to get access to 60 million American viewers with the purchase, but Time Warner Cable has already cancelled Current/Al Jazeera rather than allow a Muslim television station to air in America.
Al Jazeera was the first attempt at a non-national Arabic language news organization. Subsidized by the government of Qatar, it was given a great deal of independence and has established offices in capital cities all over the world. Modeled on CNN and the BBC, it has tried to maintain a detachment from the news, a strict non-partisan tone which has earned it the respect of other news organizations….except one. To those folks at Fox News, and by extension at Beck TV and all the right wing blogs and radio shows, Al Jazeera is a mouthpiece for al Qaida.
Okay, time for some source disclosures. When I run across a story from the Middle East, I typically start with either the Associated Press or Reuters and then move on to Al Jazeera and Haaretz, a left-leaning Israeli newspaper. Of the four, only Haaretz is overtly political, but I find other Israeli newspapers too pro-Netanyahu to be objective about issues in the West Bank. If you haven’t noticed with our links, the internet gives us access to news sources from everywhere, both in English and in whatever languages we might be able to read. For part of that network of English-language news sources, you can thank the British Empire. They are responsible for things like the Himalayan Times.
I like Al Jazeera. They are on-line in English, and broadcast in English in Europe. I have found that their situation, being based in Qatar, keeps them separated from the internal conflicts in so many Middle Eastern countries. They are not taking sides between factions in Egypt or the rebellion in Syria. They are not, by any measure, pro-terrorist. They are for the most part, what Fox News lies about being – fair and balanced.
Time Warner’s cancellation of Current/Al Jazeera is a knee-jerk reaction, driven by the raging paranoia about Muslims that has suffused America in the past ten years. There are 1.3 BILLION Muslims in the world. They are on every continent, practically in every nation. Yes, there are problems, big problems. Inciting people with religion always causes big problems. In some countries, like Myanmar, Muslims have been discriminated against and oppressed and are using the end of the military regime as a reason to seek revenge and liberation. The entire Middle East is in flux, with autocratic regimes falling and nothing stable to replace them. From Mali to Pakistan, these are countries that were created by outside empires with no regard to traditional borders or the desires of the inhabitants. Like Yugoslavia, they are falling apart and reviving those old hatreds and conflicts. Americans need to understand what is going on, and what better way than with a source that originates in the Middle East.
Al Jazeera has tried to enter into normal contracts with cable providers. Buying Current was a way to buy existing contracts. I regret that Jennifer Grantholm and Cenk Ughar are losing their jobs. I hope that the documentary filmmakers who have found a forum on Current will find new outlets. We need their voices as well. But honestly, Current never seemed to find a viable direction, never seemed to know exactly what it was and how it should proceed.
We have BBCAmerica on many cable systems. The truly lucky ones have BBC News. We have dozens of Spanish language channels. Some systems have a Russian channel and other foreign origination channels. We even, on some cable systems, have a channel in Arabic. Al Jazeera is unique. It is foreign news in English. It is information and insights that American channels cannot provide, if for no other reason than lack of time. It is information we need as we make important decisions concerning what actions we will or will not take in and with dozens of countries around the world. America has nothing to gain by fostering ignorance.
What was done to us on September 11, 2001, was horrific, but we should not allow it to blind and deafen us to the suffering, the pain, the aspirations, the hopes, the dreams and nightmares of so many of our fellow humans. For every member of the Taliban, there is a Malala. For every Ahmadinejad, there is an El Baradei. A great nation like the United States should not be afraid to meet them, listen to them, get to know them and find our common humanity.
To the journalists of Al Jazeera: “Welcome to America”